Climate change, pollution, overfishing and invasive species have had an impact on fishers and fish stocks in Tunisia. Ask 28-year-old, Abdessalem Kandil, who has been fishing off the coast of northern Tunisia for more than a decade. Sea bream, cuttlefish, shrimp and octopus, this was the bounty he used to expect in his daily catch. Now, although Abdessalem rises at 3 a.m. every day to fish, he often comes home empty-handed.
“When I go out, I don’t always come back with a catch,” he says. “We are facing a daily battle with our incomes. Sometimes I cannot pay the rent.”
For Abdessalem and many other fishers, this income is the only one they can count on. Small-scale fishers do not always have access to social services or qualify for government assistance, such as unemployment benefits, health care or pension systems. The seasonality of their work also means they often don’t earn enough to contribute to social security schemes.
Abdessalem, a father of two young children, sometimes relies on the generosity of his friends to survive.
‘’When things are not going well, I take loans from friends with the promise that there will be production in the future, and I will be able to pay my debts. Sometimes I cannot repay them,’’ he says.
Taher Hamza, a fisher with four children, is also struggling to make a living from his eel fishing. Like Abdessalem, he does not qualify for social protection. “Most fishers do not receive any assistance from the government,’’ says Taher.
Social protection is a safety net for individuals and is essential for inclusive growth and reducing poverty. Yet, more than half of the world’s population, and women in particular, are excluded from social protection, according to the International Labour Organization.
Through the Social Protection for Fisheries and Aquaculture (SocPro4Fish) project, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, is working with the Tunisian government to expand coverage of social protection to fishers and fish workers.
The project builds national capacities by helping better understand the barriers fishers face in accessing social protection and the feasibility of extending it more broadly to a sector that has a high level of informality and seasonality.
Awareness: the first step to access
Artisanal fishers often have limited knowledge about the available social protection programmes. Preliminary results from a study conducted by FAO’s partner, the Centre for Social Research and Studies (CRES), in collaboration with Tunisia’s Ministry of Social Affairs, showed that many fishers did not believe they would benefit from these programmes.
“Too often fishers don’t realise the services that are available to them,” says Daniela Kalikoski, FAO Lead Technical Officer.
Working with Tunisia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Social Affairs, CRES and the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries, FAO is helping to broaden awareness of the existing mechanisms and support fishers and fish workers in accessing them.
Currently, many fishers also face challenges when it comes to registering with Tunisia’s social security system because of the informality and the seasonality of their work. The system is complex and has four distinct social security regimes that apply to different categories of fishers. This leads to confusion or bureaucratic procedures that often limit coverage within the sector. The SocPro4Fish project is looking at more flexible requirements to match fishers’ contributory capacity.
“The improvement of the social security system for fishers has direct impacts on their work by offering them easy access to the various services of the different social schemes,” states Yessine Ben Arfa, a fisheries researcher from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries and the national project coordinator for the SocPro4Fish project.
“The different levels of contribution will be aligned with fishers’ income levels and their households’ cost of living,” he continues.
The SocPro4Fish project established a technical committee with the government and representatives from the Tunisian Agriculture and Fisheries Union and the Tunisian Association for the Development of Artisanal Fishing to simplify social protection coverage and extend it to the fisheries sector. The project also supported the establishment of a registry to identify fishers and fish workers, as well as their incomes and their needs.
“The project aims to improve the livelihoods of fishing communities by increasing the country’s capacity to expand fishers’ access to social protection services and strengthen their resilience to shocks,” says Kalikoski.
Mabrouka Ayadi, a 70-year-old widow who has been fishing her whole life, has no government pension or medical care. She hopes the SocPro4Fish project will lead to adequate coverage in the fisheries sector to support her health and well-being.
‘’I have to take care of my health care. I have four kids at home, and they depend on my fishing,’’ she says.
By improving the coherence between social protection and fisheries policies, FAO said today that the project is working to reduce poverty in the sector and sustain its development. SocPro4Fish is also working to extend social protection coverage to workers in the fisheries and aquaculture sector in other countries around the world, it added.
Source: the FAO News and Media office, Rome
– global bihari bureau